hard rock

REVIEW: Max the Axe – Status Electric (2018)

MAX THE AXE – Status Electric (2018 Mutant Music)

Two simple words:  “You gotta”.

Max the Axe is back with possibly his most potent lineup yet.  Led by Max and his thrilling axe, the band now boasts Dr. David Haslam on drums, Mike Mitchell on bass, and powerhouse lead vocalist Eric “Uncle Meat” Litwiller.

Full disclosure:  I know these guys.   I love these guys.  But I also just love hard rock and heavy metal.  So, out of integrity, I swear that if I did not like their new album, Status Electric, I would be straight up and tell you.  But I do like it.  A lot.  How much of that is due to friendship?  I don’t know.  Read the review and decide for yourself.  This is a good album.  I have bought way worse albums, for way more money.

I’ll give you some honesty right from the start.  “River Grand” is a good song, but not for an opener.  I rarely like when an album opens on a slow grind like this.  It’s enough to throw some people, but the song kicks by chorus time.  Eric Litwiller pours it all on, his lead vocal being the highlight of the track.  What’s he sound like?  He’s like an amalgam of many.  You can hear some Tenacious D, some Anvil, some Maiden.

As for Max, his solos are simple, memorable and to the point.  Pure rock and roll with a side of Ace Frehley.  His lyrics almost steal the spotlight though, as many are clever for the genre, and catchy as fuck.  “Next Plane to Vegas” is one such example, a pure blast…win place or show.

Who is “Randy”?  What’s your real name, Randy?  One of the weirdest choruses you’ll ever hear also happens to be one of the catchiest.  I can’t help it though.  I was sitting at my desk going, “Randy!  Randy!  What’s your name, Randy?”  Musically, we’re at debut-album Maiden, or reasonably close to it.  This is one of two semi-epic tracks on the album.

Max the Axe goes pop metal on “Call of the Wild”, nothing but a Motley Rokken good time.  The decent chorus is mashed up with a verse that doesn’t quite mesh.  But then things go full-on metal with “Sick of Living”.  This fuel-injected track has Eric singing at his most Bayley with a dash of Dickinson.  Litwiller’s roots include thrash metal, and there are healthy doses of that along with his best David St. Hubbins screams.  “Sick of Living” smokes the competition, besting several tracks on the great new Judas Priest album!  More great metal:  “The Other Side”.  The lead riff sounds as if bequeathed by Lord Iommi himself, with a modern slice.  And like any good Iommi track, it boasts two solid riffs, and a smokingly Sabbath solo.

Sometimes you hear an album and know right away which song should be the single.  That is “Gods on the Radio”.  Punctuation error aside, this track is winning 110%.  It shall henceforth be known as “You Gotta”, since that is the vocal hook that will be rattling inside your head for days.  The lyrics (Litwiller’s first writing credit) are borderline genius for being so goddamn memorable.

God’s on the radio,
With the world in his video,
Phil Collins in the studio,
Phil Collins in the Su-su-su-su-sudio.

The song itself is punky Queens of the Stone Age, with vintage 1977 Ace Frehley lead guitar and maybe a hint of Mike Patton.  Yes, this is the single, absolutely.  I’ll say it’s one of the best songs to come out this year.  At least, if the amount it’s stuck in my head is anything to judge by.  In fact I’m gonna go back and play it again.  “You gotta,” as the man says.

Yeah, even on repeat listens, it remains as fun as the first.  I only wish for a better sounding recording; it would be brilliant with full-on studio fidelity.  “You gotta turn it up louder,” says the man, so that helps.

Garage rock is embodied with the sloppy “Uptite Friday Nite”.  Stupidly catchy, it’s not one of the best tracks but it’s the noisiest.  This is the kind of jam you’d put on before going out for the night.  It sounds like the guys shoutin’ out the chorus are already halfway there.

The second, and superior album epic is “Scales of Justice”, Litwiller’s other co-write.  Vintage 1976-era Judas Priest (circa Sad Wings) meets a slick Zeppelin groove.  Jimmy Page definitely sounds like an influence in parts, while others are jagged riffs of metal.  Max uses his Axe to carve music from pure granite, and it’s all very satisfying.  The song snakes in and out with different sections and grooves.  As a closer it is suitably climactic and leaves you wanting more.

I played some tracks for some friends.  One disagreed with my praise of “You Gotta” and thought “Scales of Justice” was far better.  Another commented, “You know what this sounds like?  A bunch of 40 year olds in a basement.”  And I responded, “What’s wrong with that?”  Here are some guys in their 40s that are still passionate about rock, and after many years, have written a collection of nine good songs.  With regular-Joe money, they made an album.  And it’s a good album.  I hear things on this album that keep me coming back.  I ask myself, “am I biased”?  Of course I am.  But I wouldn’t have to listen to it if I didn’t want to.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve played this album in totality.  It’s a lot.  You don’t do that unless you like it.  Whatever it is that I am hearing on Status Electric by Max the Axe, I can only hope that you can hear it too.

4/5 stars

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GUEST REVIEW: Fastway – Trick or Treat (1986 Soundtrack)

 

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It’s not about the candy!  It’s Halloween Wednesday again, so here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews

 

FASTWAY – Trick or Treat Original Music Score (1986 Columbia)

Some albums excel by being excellent; Trick or Treat is not one of those albums. It excels because of its banality. There’s nothing on this album that you’ve never heard before, but the band sells it with such conviction that you buy into about as much as the band itself does. This is the soundtrack to the best forgotten 1986 film starring no one worth remembering, with a couple of cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. The film was such a dud that once it was released on DVD, they changed the cover to feature the faces of Simmons and Osbourne despite the two of them being in the film for a collective total of about five minutes.  The journey I went through listening to this album impacted me in such a way that I feel obligated to elaborate on it here, and that journey will essentially act as the review. I didn’t intentionally go anywhere while listening to this album; the music was such a powerful agent that it literally shattered the very fabric of space and time. The film is not as strong.

However, this review isn’t about that film. This is about the Fastway soundtrack to the film. You’d think a band taking on a film as gloriously moronic as this one would whip up some tracks that were appropriately tongue in cheek, but nope. Fastway plays it 100% straight, which actually makes it funnier than if they’d been going for laughs. The songs that follow are a complete artistic tour de force that will leave your soul shaken by the depth and insightful words of automatic poetry.

The first time I heard the opening song and title track, I pooped my pants.* The song’s unparalleled emotion and tenacity penetrated the very depths of my being, and left me quivering unequivocally with raw radiant emotion. The spiritual rebirth was enough to temporarily reset my bowels back to their earliest stages, causing a stinky disturbance. Joy mixed with sorrow as the cool tears streamed down my face like a river from the ice caves of the indigenous population of Mars. The deep prose of the chorus commanded deeper attention, as Dave King eloquently belted out the most imaginative lines in all of rock. “Rock and roll! Rockin’ on at midnight, steal your soul!” So much can be determined from the hermetic intangibility of this expertly crafted piece of macaroni and songwriting. Never before has a rock vocalist journeyed to such spiritual and internal truths. This has elevated to a level beyond art, beyond comprehension, beyond all human understanding! It has encompassed all the ostentatious pretension and grandeur of the art world, while maintaining a close link to the blue collar worker! This is a work of God!

By the time the song is over, my hands are bloody from the sheer force with which I was gripping my security blanket. My nails dug through the blanket into my fist. My material possessions (except the stereo and the blanket) had burned up in the intensity, as music so self-aware could only be absorbed by living tissue. I feel so weak that I can barely discern the ends of the blanket from my fragile body. I press pause on my CD player, and I begin to cry. After a healthy drink of water, I decide to venture on to the next potential masterpiece, and continue on with my expedition into the brilliantly alluring tapestry of the Fastway facade. The opening chords of “After Midnight” burst out of my speakers directly into my chest, and they blow me into another dimension.

I awoke in an alternate reality where candy was made of fish, and fish were made of candy in the chocolate river of wind city sticks. A man dressed like a woman and a woman dressed like a woman approached me and gifted me a dishwasher. A balding wildflower called my name and I decided to investigate his store front. He was selling music, but only two albums. Those two albums were a copy of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able, and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy. Considering the fact that it was Fastway that knocked me into another dimension, it was weird getting this musical inception to other artists’ records. The orange label on the Vai album began to swallow me, and my spirit was floating above my unconscious body as I returned to my room, hovering over my body as Fastway played. My spirit re-entered my body as I discovered I had soiled myself again. What high art!

After a quick attire substitution, and a breeze through the mediocrity of the song “Don’t Stop the Fight”, “Stand Up” began to emanate from the speakers. The ceiling shattered as I was abducted by alien people that looked like Jon Bon Jovi and Sam Kinison fused their DNA together. They drank wine like classy sophisticates. Fastway is the only music good enough to satisfy their cultural needs, and they intended to harvest my Fastway collection, but I was able to fight them off by comparing their acting skills to Rob Lowe’s. As they nursed their bruised egos, I leapt out of the spaceship and slid down the rainbow from the clouds of snow and weather pulses.

I went on a series of comparable journeys throughout the process of listening to the album, with tribal incantations and aristocratic meat loaf simulators, but nothing could prepare me for the climatic showdown induced by the closing track masterpiece “If You Could See”. Apparently, the reason that Fastway was able to lift itself to such scholarly levels of uncompromising respectability is because the band wasn’t a band at all. Fastway was a hype mind suffering from malignant narcissism due to a computer virus uploaded into the mainframe by a ghost bearing a striking resemblance to Herbert Marcuse. The hype mind was designed to make the greatest music imaginable that would only reveal itself to the chosen one. I guess I was the chosen one. Luckily the hype mind was printing dot matrix still, and was running on a Pentium processor from the ‘90s. I was able to overload it by switching the computer date to 2000. Y2K! Escaping the area would manage to be the greatest magic trick I was able to conjure upon the underpopulated document absence of consequential thought and sound devised by the penultimate direct access line to the semi permeable ancestors of the Pagan worship center of healthcare management fiscal responsibility drones. To combat the territorial dipping sauce from the entrée dessert filibuster mustard, swans arose from the pie crust to entrench the moon beams of reflective solar glares in Jimmy Stewart fashion. And that’s how I escaped!

So in the end the album was only a half-baked set of ideas that didn’t quite measure up to the level of the first two Fastway albums, but easily left the third album in the dust. I trust you were able to ascertain that from my last paragraph, but I may as well summarize for clarity’s sake. There are enough inspired moments on this release to merit owning it as a good enough novelty Halloween disc, but if it didn’t have the gimmick of being attached the holiday there would be little reason to own this. It’s pretty generic ‘80s rock, with Dave King sounding like a hybrid between Jack Russell of Great White and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. However, sometimes generic can hit the spot if you’re not sure what specific flavor you want, and the holiday connections make it go down with a little less guilt. “Hold on to the Night” knocks off half a point for being maddeningly repetitive, but it gains that half point back for not sucking as much as the movie it’s featured in.

Score: 3/5 (Smashing?) Pumpkins

* There is no shame in that.

REVIEW: The Darkness – Live at Hammersmith (2018)

THE DARKNESS – Live at Hammersmith (2018 Canary Dwarf)

“Gimme a D!  Gimme an arkness!”  It’s long overdue, but the world is now the better for it:  the first live album by The Darkness!  Including a few quality B-sides, The Darkness had enough strong songs for a live album back in 2006.  Time waits for no band, but now they’ve got an even hotter selection of hits and deep cuts to draw from, and Live at Hammersmith boasts 19 of ’em on a single CD.  Sorry Japan, no bonus tracks for you.

All five Darkness albums and some classic non-LP singles are sourced, and what a collection it is.  A lot of the newer material on stage consist of the heaviest songs:  “Buccaneers of Hispaniola”, “Southern Trains” and “Barbarian” are like lead, but propelled at the speed of sound!  The oldies span all shades of Darkness, from the hardest cut stones (“Black Shuck”) to the cushioning of a ballad (“Love is Only a Feeling”).

It seems to be, by and large, all the best stuff.  “Givin’ Up”, “Growing On Me”, “One Way Ticket”, “Friday Night”, and the two big hits “Get Your Hands off My Woman” and “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” are present and accounted for.  The last three albums are also represented, and as good as they are, it’s the old stuff that thrills most.

That includes “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” from this seasonal Hammersmith gig.  Maybe it’s those giant dual guitars, but this one has always seemed to work all year ’round.  It’s just a glorified Thin Lizzy riff with a high-pitched singer, and that works winter, spring, summer and fall.

Speaking of the singer, Justin Hawkins has maintained his one-of-a-kind voice and range over all these years, unlike virtually every other homo sapiens on the planet.  Let’s start a conspiracy theory right here that he is an alien, because the voice is just inhuman.

Would have loved “Last of Our Kind”, though that’s a minor complaint.

Hammersmith fell to the Darkness that night.  Now you can relive it in your headphones, or home theatre, as it were.

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Styx – Caught in the Act – Live (1984)

For Deke’s review at Arena Rock, click here!

 

STYX – Caught in the Act – Live (1984 A&M, 2018 BGO reissue)

“Hey everybody it’s Music Time!”

Sorta, anyway!  Styx were just about toast after “Mr. Roboto“, and Tommy Shaw didn’t want to sing any more songs about androids.  (Mars, however, was fine.)  He departed to check out some Girls With Guns, but not before Styx put out one more product before hiatus.  That would be the traditional double live album, which was actually Styx’s first.

Styx have lots of live albums now, but only two with Dennis DeYoung.  Caught in the Act is essential for a few key reasons.  It sounds great although there are clearly overdubs in places.  It is the only one with the classic lineup of DeYoung/Shaw/James “JY” Young/Chuck Panozzo/John Panozzo.  And it has plenty of classic Styx songs that still shake the radio waves today.

Like many live albums, Caught in the Act contained one new song.  Dennis DeYoung wrote the uppity “Music Time”, a very New Wave single without much of the punch of old Styx.  Shaw was so nauseated that he barely participated in the music video.  “Music Time” isn’t one of Styx’s finest songs.  It’s passable but clearly a misstep.  No wonder it was a final straw of sorts for Tommy Shaw.

With that out of the way, on with the show.  Styx opened the set with “Mr. Roboto”, a mega hit that got a bad rap over the years until nostalgia made it OK to like it again.  Fortunately only two songs from Kilroy Was Here were included, the ballad “Don’t Let It End” being the other.  Live, “Roboto” pulses with energy, far more than you would expect.  The disco-like synthetic beats complement the techno-themed lyrics.  Every hook is delivered with precision.  With the human factor that comes out in a live recording, “Roboto” could be one of those songs that is actually better live.

Styx have always been a diverse act, and this album demonstrates a few sides of the band.  Shaw and Young tended to write rockers, and “Too Much Time On My Hands”, “Miss America”, “Snowblind”, “Rockin’ the Paradise” and especially “Blue Collar Man” are prime examples of the best kind.  Long nights, impossible odds…yet a killer set of rock tunes.  Then there are the ballads.  “Babe” is a slow dancing classic, and “The Best of Times” is even better.  Finally, the tunes that verge on progressive epics: “Suite Madame Blue”, “Crystal Ball” and “Come Sail Away” have the pompous complexity that punk rockers hated so much.  This album is a shining live recreation of some of rock’s most beloved music.

The 2018 CD reissue on BGO Records sounds brilliant with depth, and has a nice outer slipcase.  You’ll also get a nice thick full colour booklet with photos and an essay that goes right up to 2017’s The Mission.  BGO is a well known, respected label.  This reissue is a must.

4.5/5 stars

 

 

#704: Battle of the Bands

A kinda-sorta retelling from a different perspective of Part 258:  Uncle Meat

GETTING MORE TALE #704: Battle of the Bands

Poor George.  He really wanted to be in a band.  Rob Szabo had a band.  He was just starting out with one of the neighbour kids.  He even had two original tunes (I remember one was called “The Stroll” and I can still hum it).  George really wanted to be in Rob’s band.  He hung out at their basement rehearsals and watched them play.  Rob would teach him things.  They needed a bass player.

George secretly saved his money, and eventually bought a bass.  Rob was horrified.  He didn’t want George in his band, he wanted a musician who already knew how to play music.  He didn’t want to have to teach the bass player how to play bass.  He also felt terribly guilty, because George bought the bass specifically because Rob needed a bass player!

I can remember George playing Rob’s tape to the girl he liked.  “That’s us!” he said.  “That’s my band.”  He wasn’t on the recording at all.

Like a kid who didn’t know how to break up with his girlfriend, Rob took a while to tell George he was “out” of the band.  When he did, George was not deterred.  He just went it alone.  He taught himself how to play by playing along to records.  He studied Steve Harris and Gene Simmons who quickly became his favourite bassist.  He practiced all the time.  I know, because we could hear him from our house.  We laughed about it, because George also attempted to sing.

He eventually got pretty good at bass; good enough anyway for the bar band scene.  He would never be any good at singing, although that hardly stopped him, and you have to respect that.

In the summer time, George took his amp outside and played for anybody who happened to be around.  He loved to play, “Guess this song from the bassline!”  Not an easy game when I didn’t know many songs yet myself.  I had a few albums, but I’d only been into rock and roll for a couple years.  Every bassline sounded the same to me.

“Guess this one”!  Durm durm durm durm.  Durm durm durm durm.

“Uhh, I dunno, ‘Shout It Out Loud’?”

“No, it’s ‘Love Gun!'”

George finished highschool, but I was just beginning.  It was there I saw my first Battle of the Bands.  I sat with Bob Schipper, Rob Daniels and the gang at lunch watching the bands play.  Rob Szabo had a band called Under 550 — the total body weight of the four members.  Even in highschool, it was obvious Rob had real talent.  There were all the other bands, and then there was Under 550.  He was levels above the others.  He could play “YYZ”.  I’d never even heard of “YYZ” (though I’d seen those letters on my parents’ luggage tags).  There was only one clear winner and that was Under 550.  It was obvious to everyone.  They would be going to the regionals at the Humanities Theatre.

Rob Szabo on the left

Bob and I got our tickets.  We went with neighborhood friends Scott Peddle and Todd Meyer.  The four of us sat together and waited giddily.  Not only was Rob Szabo playing, but so was George.  He joined a band called Zephyr (no relation to the other Zephyr), and they were on the bill.  I planned my catcalls.

George always told me he wanted to play “I Love It Loud”, and introduce it by saying to the crowd:  “How do you like your music?  Well I love it loud!”  I hoped and prayed he was going to do that.

Each band got two songs.  We waited through noise bands like Stomach Acid and F.U.H.Q., who had the plug pulled early for swearing.  We waited through boring acoustic and pop crapola.  There was one group that rocked really fucking hard.  I wasn’t into thrash, and these guys were heavy.  A group of bangers came down to the front row and started banging their heads to the thrash!  You could see the long hair flailing.  I didn’t know the singer, but many years later I found out his name was Eric.  But nobody calls him Eric.  Today they just call him Uncle Meat.  The Legendary Uncle Meat.

Meat

Truth is, his band was too scary for a 14 year old me!

On came Zephyr.  “You suck George!” I yelled, with Scott joining me.  He ignored us, or couldn’t hear us.  It didn’t matter, Scott and I were laughing so hard!

Sadly, George did not play “I Love It Loud”.  Zephyr disbanded a little after, with George again going solo.

Rob stacked the deck for the regionals.  Under 550 added a lead singer, and became Over 550 for this one night.  Though they didn’t win, they ranked high.  Uncle Meat and George went home empty-handed, but with memories etched forever.

The winners of that event? The now-somewhat-but-not-really-legendary Gordie Gordo and the G Men, featuring Sausagefester Scottie G, on the not-very-well played guitar! $100 dollar first prize which went promptly towards a mic stand.

We laughed on the way home at our witty catcalls like “Don’t fall over George!”

And that, friends, is why my highschool years were better than yours.

 

 

REVIEW: Styx – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004)

STYX – Come Sail Away: The Styx Anthology (2004 A&M)

Styx need to get their albums remastered and reissued pronto.  In the meantime, you can Come Sail Away with The Styx Anthology.

The great thing about the Styx Anthology is that it covers virtually all Styx history, even the first four albums on Wooden Nickel records.  Each one of those early albums is represented by a track (two for Styx II).  Those early albums had some good material on them that usually only diehards get to hear.  “Best Thing” and “You Need Love” are bright and rocking, just like you expect from Styx.  “Winner Take All” and “Rock & Roll Feeling” are consistent toe-tappers.  The jovial harmonies, and lead vocals (by Dennis DeYoung and James “JY” Young) on these tracks could easily be mistaken for later, more famous Styx.  Don’t forget the original version of “Lady” from Styx II, their first big ballad.  Styx’s flair for the dramatic was there right from the first.  (Remember “Lady” as performed by the Dan Band in the movie Old School?)

Shortly thereafter Styx signed with A&M.  1975’s Equinox boasted hits galore.  You should know “Light Up” and “Lorelei”.  But Equinox was their last with founding guitarist John Curulewski.  He was replaced by a guitarist with prodigious talent and a voice to go with it:  Tommy Shaw.  Shaw’s “Crystal Ball” is one of the best songs from the album of the same title.  “Mademoiselle” and “Shooz” are not far behind.

Styx enjoyed an abnormally long period of great, classic albums in a row.  After Crystal Ball came The Grand Illusion, Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre.  With a solid lineup they continued to crank out radio staples.  Their music became grander and more conceptual thanks to Dennis DeYoung.  Tommy Shaw and JY tended to provide balance with rockier songs.  Songs like Dennis’ “The Grand Illusion” are balanced out by Young’s “Miss America” and Shaw’s “Renegade”.  Sure, Shaw could write a ballad or two, but his are more rootsy like the acoustic “Boat on a River”.

Through “Come Sail Away”, “Babe”, “The Best of Times” and “Too Much Time on My Hands”, it is impossible to understate how hit-laden this CD set is.  “Blue Collar Man”, “Rockin’ the Paradise”…it’s seemingly endless!

Until it ends, right after “Mr. Roboto”.  Though their lineup was stable, Styx were volatile.  DeYoung was fired at one point for being too controlling.  Shaw threatened to quit if the song “First Time” was ever released as a single (it wasn’t and it’s not on here).  It came to a head for real with “Roboto”, from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here.  Though it went to #3, the tour did poorly and the band were not happy with DeYoung and his rock operatics.  Tommy Shaw stated that he couldn’t get into songs about robots (long before he wrote an album about Mars).  The Styx Anthology cuts you a break by not subjecting you to their last single before splitting, “Music Time”.

When Styx reformed in 1990 it was without Shaw, who was doing very well in the supergroup Damn Yankees.  He was replaced by singer/guitarist Glen Burtnik.  Burtnik’s single “Love is the Ritual” is a jarring change.  The seven years between it and “Roboto” are audible, as Styx forged a clear hard rock sound with the single.  Sporting synth bass and shouted “Hey!’s”, you couldn’t get further from the core Styx sound than “Love is the Ritual”.  With the new member singing, it’s hard to hear any similarity to Styx at all.  Dennis’ “Show Me the Way” has proven to be a more timeless song.  Although it resonated with Americans at the time of the Gulf War, today it is just a great song about keeping the faith.

Styx split again, but reformed with Shaw in 1995.  Unfortunately, founding drummer John Panozzo died from years of alcohol abuse and was replaced by the incredible Todd Sucherman.  “Dear John” is Sucherman’s first appearance on the disc, a tribute to Panozzo.  The somber Tommy Shaw ballad (from 1997’s Return to Paradise) simply had to be included on a Styx anthology.  The only Styx studio album ignored on the set is 1999’s Brave New World, and rightfully so.  Instead we leap ahead in time for the final song, featuring yet another lineup change, and one of the most significant.  Dennis DeYoung was let go and replaced by Canadian solo star Lawrence Gowan.  This has proven to be a fortuitous undertaking for both Styx and Gowan.  Gowan plays keyboards on “One With Everything” (from 2003’s Cyclorama), an epic six minute Tommy Shaw progressive workout.  It’s a brilliant song, and a perfect indication that for Styx, a whole new chapter had opened.*

Do yourself a favour. Go and buy Styx’s new album The Mission, and put The Styx Anthology in the basket too.  Then enjoy, and congratulate yourself for a great start on your Styx collection!

5/5 stars

* Two more lineup changes:  when bassist Chuck Panozzo fell ill, he became a part time bassist for Styx.  Glen Burtnik returned on bass this time and played on Cyclorama.  When he left again, he was replaced by Ricky Phillips from Coverdale-Page.

 

REVIEW: Styx – Styxworld Live 2001

STYX – Styxworld Live 2001 (2001 Sanctuary)

There are plenty of live Styx albums, the majority with current singer Lawrence Gowan.  2001’s Styxworld is as entertaining as the title implies.  It really does represent the world of Styx:  oldies, solo hits, and obscure tracks too.  Because the Styx lineup in 2001 included guitarist/singer Glen Burtnik, there are a couple songs he wrote that Styx don’t play anymore.

Styx have had a credible career, post-Dennis DeYoung.  Adding Gowan, a solo star in Canada, was a brilliant move.   Though Gowan and DeYoung don’t sound alike, Lawrence is capable of performing Dennis’ more dramatic hits like “Come Sail Away”.   You wouldn’t want that song dropped from the set!  But Gowan also adds his own solo material:  “A Criminal Mind” (from 1985’s Strange Animal) is more than welcome.  A great song is a great song, and “A Criminal Mind” has since become a part of Styx.

Credit should be heaped for including lesser-heard classics like “Boat on a River” in the set, just as good as any of the missing songs.  You’ll also hear “Rocking the Paradise”, “Miss America”, “Sing for the Day”, “Crystal Ball”, “Half-Penny, Two-Penny” and “Lorelei” (James “JY” on lead vocals).  Essentially the setlist was whittled down to songs co-written by Tommy Shaw or James Young, with “Come Sail Away” being the only solo DeYoung-written song.

You could fill a whole other album with missing songs like “The Grand Illusion” or “Renegade” but what makes Styxworld strong are the songs included in their place.  Like it or not “Love is the Ritual” was a minor hit for Burtnik-era Styx, and an effort seems to have been made to include everybody’s material.  A big hit (though not by Styx!) is “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough” by Patty Smyth and Don Henley…written by Smyth and Burtnik.  It’s cool to have a Styx version though it’s shortened for the stage.  Of course there’s “Criminal Mind” by Gowan, and even the ballad “High Enough” by Tommy Shaw’s Damn Yankees.  Though it seems like a ballad-heavy set, there is plenty of rock and roll.

Check out Styxworld for a taste of this period of Styx history.  If you like Gowan, it’s a win.

4/5 stars

 

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Midnite Dynamite (1985)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 3 in his KIX series

KIX – Midnite Dynamite (1985 Atlantic)

In 1985, Kix returned after two commercially unsuccessful albums, with what they consider to be their magnum opus, Midnight Dynamite. This is where the new wave styles of the first two records take a backseat to the hard rock influences. Later on, they’d completely shun their new wave influences by kicking them out of the car, and making new wave watch hard rock shag its girlfriend. For now, the blend was still somewhat apparent, but with the mix changed.

Produced by Lebrain’s favorite producer of all time (Beau Hill), Midnight Dynamite definitely sounds like its era, much more so than the debut or Cool Kids. For the first time we get some electronic percussion thrown into the mix and it is the first album by Kix to feature synthesizers in a prominent role. This could have been disastrous, but luckily Kix utilizes them to color the sound and they don’t diminish the hard edge of the guitars one iota. This is a hard rock record first and foremost, and with Ronnie “10/10” Younkins back in the mix, the guitar duo of the first album is reestablished. Pressured once again to work with outside writers, the primary guy for the job is Bob Halligan Jr. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because he wrote two songs for Judas Priest (“Take These Chains” & “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”), and co-wrote with Icon on their second album Night of the Crime. Boasting some impressive credentials, the songwriting takes a step up this time around. Nearly all the songs are collaborations between bassist Donnie Purnell and Halligan.

The album is jump started by the title track. A slow and heavy number, it was a bold choice to open an album with.  Fortunately for Kix, it completely works. The intensity of the verses builds up tension for the ridiculously catchy harmonies in pre-chorus, where we finally get the big payoff during the chorus. This is melodic hard rock done right, without the frills that are usually associated with AOR or other bands of the time period. Kix made sure that the material had balls, something that many other bands of the time period eschewed for chart success. The intensity of the title track is followed by the erotic “Red Hot (Black & Blue)” with a sleazy stuttering riff. The production on this song is a little heavy handed with the reverse reverb in the verses, but it’s nothing that ruins the impact. Another song with dynamics, the verses stutter along with spunk, until the chorus where that Kix fire is unleashed. Some pretty cheesy lyrics, but if you weren’t prepared for that then why would you be reading a Kix review?

One of Beau’s buddies Kip Winger earns himself a writing credit on track number 3, “Bang Bang (Balls of Fire)”. As you can tell by the title, it’s one of the more generic rock songs on the album. It’s one of the least substantial, but it’s still an enjoyable tune. “Layin’ Rubber” is much better, as all the elements that make up the Kix sound are blended masterfully. Obviously more hard rock orientated than material of the past, the track features bubblegum pop chants before launching into a hard rock riff, while the intensity of the music elevates as the song goes on. Each section of the song’s structure is composed to perfectly transition into the next. One of the best tracks on the album, it manages to be damn brutal, and also catchy as shit.

The rest of the album proceeds in this manner, blistering hard rock tunes with undeniably catchy melodies that are never too sugary enough to make you sick to your stomach. There is only one ballad “Walkin’ Away”, which is built on synthesizers, but has enough of a kick to be enjoyable. “Cold Shower” was the other single, which features some rap like vocals in the verses and singer Steve Whiteman hitting some glass shattering notes before the chorus. It’s one of the most eccentric tunes on the album, and I’m surprised it was picked as a single.

Surprising songs or not, this album is one of the most underrated of the era. It’s a mystery as to why it didn’t sell better than it did. Label indifference? If you’re a fan of the rock music, you owe it to yourself to pick up this album and the even better follow up Blow My Fuse.

4.75/5 stars

A note for Kiss fans, Anton Fig plays drums on the last two tracks because Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant had broken his arm.